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Stepping Through the Looking Glass: Professional Autonomy in Correctional Nursing

NCJ Number
Corrections Today Volume: 67 Issue: 1 Dated: February 2005 Pages: 54-56,70
Sue Smith
Date Published
February 2005
4 pages
This article examines professional autonomy and correctional nursing and presents findings from a 2004 study measuring professional autonomy among correctional nurses in Ohio’s correctional system.
Correctional nursing is a nursing specialty with very unique features. Within correctional health care settings, the unavailability of physicians means that nurses are often the initial health care provider, thereby increasing the autonomy of correctional nurses. This article begins with a literature review on professional autonomy and correctional nursing. The review indicated the emergence of four predominant themes or characteristics of professional autonomy: authority, independent practice, patient advocacy, and accountability. Following the review are findings from a 2004 study conducted to measure professional autonomy among correctional nurses employed by prisons in Ohio using the Nursing Activity Scale (NAS) survey instrument developed for use with practicing nurses. The survey describes situations in which a nurse may act autonomously. The findings indicate nurses scored only in the moderate level of professional autonomy indicating that these nurses may not feel secure enough to choose more autonomous activities, lack the educational preparation to make choices, feel constrained from choosing such activities, or there are other significant obstacles to choosing more autonomous activities. Implications from the study are presented and discussed. The results of the study can be used to guide policy decisions and develop educational programming designed to reinforce the treatment identity of correctional nurses and enhance the assessment and decisionmaking skills required of nurses in this unique specialty. 19 Endnotes